The divide between the reel and real world is fast closing. The metaverse, a concept first depicted in the iconic The Matrix movie more than 20 years ago, is becoming a reality as brands look to merge the real and digital worlds into one, driving the next gen version of the internet.
Just what is the metaverse? It is a vision for a new environment to interact with other humans and bots to play games, conduct business, socialize and shop. Best described as a 3D World Wide Web, the metaverse aims to mimic the physical world with a digital facsimile and combines a myriad of technologies including but not limited to augmented reality, mixed reality, livestreaming, cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence.
The metaverse moved from Hollywood fare to front-page news last month when Mark Zuckerberg declared Facebook a “metaverse company.” In May of this year, Microsoft laid out its “metaverse tech stack” to facilitate metaverse app development while Epic Games announced $1 billion of funding to support its long-term metaverse strategy.
In July of this year, a group of seven counselors from various industries launched an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) on the New York Stock Exchange, sponsored and maintained by Roundhill Investments. It’s a group of securities that trade like a stock, bundling companies the council deems to be primed to build out the metaverse. Now available on the New York Stock Exchange, Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that the market size for metaverse could reach $800 billion by 2024.
While the metaverse may still be only a buzzword (only 38% of global consumers are familiar with the concept, according to a Wunderman Thompson Intelligence report), the time is now for brands to establish its roadmap for entry in this new CX universe. A number of trends are driving the emergence of a metaverse, many as a result of the digitally-native Gen Z and millennial populations. A recent study from Squarespace and The Harris Poll found that more than 60% of them believe that how you present yourself online is more important than how you do in real life.
According to the “Into the Metaverse” report, 76% of consumers say their daily lives now depend on technology (79% for Gen Zers and 80% for millennials) while 85% report that a digital presence will be “essential” for brands to succeed in the future. In fact, 66% of consumers prefer to engage brands digitally and 73% find it easier to interact with brands via online channels.
Wunderson Thompson breaks down the metaverse into four primary categories: MetaLives, which constitute ideas such as digital ownership and content creation through formats like digital art and nonfungible tokens; MetaSpaces, virtual venues or activations that blend aspects of the virtual world with the real one; MetaBusinesses, including the rise of “gamevertising,” where brands appear within the realm of video games;and MetaSocieties characterized by people closely wedding their real-life identities with channels like social media and cultivating “hyper-real identities online.”
Metaverse-minded? Key CX considerations
With the metaverse allowing brands to create increasingly personalized and meaningful customer experiences, organizations will pivot from being merely digital-first to becoming truly virtual-first. This represents an incredible opportunity for brands to reinvent themselves in a way that is truly differentiating. To get started planning for a CX metaverse, consider these critical considerations.
- Explore and invest in the technology. Soon brands will be looking to use their own platforms. Invest in Extended Reality (xR) technology to create real-time, immersive video content that makes metaverse experiences possible. Augmented reality (AR) enables digital graphics, props or characters to engage in the real world from the viewpoints of the camera while mixed reality (MR) blends AR in the foreground with LED backdrops or video content in the background to actually place people inside digital worlds.
- Create dedicated roles for designing metaverse experiences for customers. Designing differentiating virtual experiences will require a mix of out-of-the-box creativity with engineering and development capabilities.
- Define and design a metaverse customer journey. How will your customers decide to enter it? What activities or tasks are they hoping to perform there? How can you integrate self-service capabilities into the virtual experience to solve customer issues? What kind of real-time feedback can they offer about virtual experiences? What kind of direct support will be required? What will influence the duration of their stay?
- Think about ways in which you can leverage the metaverse to engage audiences. Consider releasing a digital version of a new product or experience, creating an immersive game in a virtual space or inviting customers into a digital world. Gucci has created digital-only products, Balenciaga has held virtual fashion shows and Hyundai is offering a peek into the future of mobility on Roblox.
- Plan for a complex channel integration necessary to deliver a metaverse experience. Data-sharing will need to happen concurrently across multiple users so data usage and security will be especially important to address. Along with the interconnectedness that drives compelling virtual experiences, the metaverse will also likely increase threats to personal safety and market competition as well as the ability to spread misinformation.
- Identify metrics to continuously monitor and improve CX in the metaverse. CSAT alone won’t cut it. Instead, a Customer Effort Score (CES) might be more useful. CES is a single-item metric that aims to measure friction or the amount of effort a customer must exert to get an issue resolved, a product purchased or returned, or a question answered. In addition, brands will need to rethink its reliance on the Net Promoter Score to determine how and to what extent a certain NPS based on a metaverse experience will translate (positively or negatively) to the NPS is other brand channels, including the real world.
- Create virtual experiences that emphasize empathetic customer experiences, supported by human-centered AI. Computer-generated avatars need to feel human and natural. The digital interaction needs to feel real. Brands, like Nestle Toll House, use digital customer service personnel responding in a very human-like way. Doing so doubles the amount of time consumers spend interacting with them online. Ruth, Nestle’s “cookie coach”, drove engagement times of 7.13 minutes compared to a typical digital interaction at less than one minute. It’s also critical that brands behave in an honest, transparent manner in metaverse environments. Failing to identify a digital customer service representative as such or using pre-recorded answers in animated characters are surefire ways to lose customer trust.
- Be prepared to test and learn as the metaverse evolves toward its vision. While ROI on metaverse initiatives may be a way off, now is the time to fine-tune your marketing playbook for the virtual world.
The metaverse offers brands the opportunity to develop deeper personal and meaningful relationships with customers by creating virtual experiences that combine entertainment, personalization and value.
A real-world version of the Matrix, the metaverse will leverage AR, MR, AI and a host of other technologies to create a virtual world for customers that will become a daily part of their life. But as Morpheus, the protagonist and sage elder says to Neo in The Matrix, “You have to let it all go – fear, doubt and disbelief. I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”